Trump Blocks Contracts & Communications at US-EPA & Agriculture

by Duane Nichols on January 25, 2017

Octopus symbolic of multi-tasking

Trump admin orders EPA contract freeze and media blackout

From Michael Biesecker and John Flesher | AP, Washington Post, January 24, 2017

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has instituted a media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants, part of a broader communications clampdown within the executive branch.

Emails sent to EPA staff since President Donald Trump’s inauguration Friday and reviewed by The Associated Press detailed specific prohibitions banning press releases, blog updates or posts to the agency’s social media accounts.

The Trump administration has also ordered what it called a temporary suspension of all new business activities at the department, including issuing task orders or work assignments to EPA contractors. The orders were expected to have a significant and immediate impact on EPA activities nationwide. EPA contracts with outside vendors for a wide array of services, from engineering and research science to janitorial supplies.

Similar orders barring external communications have been issued in recent days by the Trump administration at other federal agencies, including the Agriculture and Interior departments.

Staffers in EPA’s public affairs office are instructed to forward all inquiries from reporters to the Office of Administration and Resources Management. “Incoming media requests will be carefully screened,” one directive said. “Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.”

Doug Ericksen, the communications director for Trump’s transition team at EPA, said he expects the communications ban to be lifted by the end of this week. “We’re just trying to get a handle on everything and make sure what goes out reflects the priorities of the new administration,” Ericksen said.

Beyond what was stated in the internal email, Ericksen clarified that the freeze on EPA contracts and grants won’t apply to pollution cleanup efforts or infrastructure construction activities.

Officials at state and local agencies that rely on EPA for funding said they were left in the dark, saying they had received no information from EPA about the freeze.

“We are actively seeking additional information so we can understand the impact of this action on our ability to administer critical programs,” said Alan Matheson, executive director of Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

The executive director for the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Jeff Ruch, said the orders go beyond what has occurred in prior presidential transitions. “We’re watching the dark cloud of Mordor extend over federal service,” Ruch said Tuesday, referring to the evil kingdom in the epic fantasy “The Lord of the Rings.”

Ruch noted that key posts at EPA have not yet been filled with Republican appointees, including Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. That means there are not yet the new senior personnel in place to make key decisions.

Environmentalists said the orders were having a chilling effect on EPA staff, many of whom were suffering from low morale. Trump and Pruitt have both been frequent critics of the agency and have questioned the validity of climate science showing that the Earth is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame.

Liz Perera, climate policy director for the Sierra Club, said Trump’s move to freeze all EPA communications and contracts should be “a major red flag for all Americans.” “EPA was created to ensure that all Americans can enjoy clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and have their health protected from environmental and climate threats,” Perera said.

Some staff at the Agriculture Department also received orders not to release any documents to the public. “This includes, but is not limited to, news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds and social media content,” read an email to staff at the agency’s Agricultural Research Service, which was obtained by the AP. ARS spokesman Christopher Bentley said the ban would not include scientific publications released through peer-reviewed professional journals.

“As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency, ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America,” Bentley said, according to a statement.

It was not immediately clear whether similar instructions were given to others within the department.

The AP reported over the weekend that staff at the Interior Department were temporarily ordered to stop making posts to its Twitter account. The prohibition came after the official account of the National Park Service, a bureau of the department, retweeted a pair of posts to its 315,000 followers that seemed to be a swipe at Trump on his initial day in office. The first was a photo that compared the crowd gathered on the National Mall for Trump with the much larger gathering that stood in the same spot eight years earlier for President Barack Obama’s swearing-in.

Trump later falsely claimed that more than 1 million people attended his inauguration, which Spicer insisted was the most watched in history.

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Andrew Griffin UK January 25, 2017 at 11:46 am

Donald Trump plans to ‘reform’ the way environmental agency uses science, report claim

By Andrew Griffin, The Independent UK, January 23, 2017

>>> The leaked report is an extreme version of the kind of climate plans that the Trump camp has already put forward < <<

Donald Trump is planning to "reform" the way that the Environmental Protection Agency uses science, according to a new report.

The new claim comes just days after the first thing on the new White House was an energy policy that called for the EPA to focus primarily on clean air and water, and not on its climate change activity. That same document didn't mention global warming at all – and neither does any other post on the administration's website.

That same approach appears to have carried on to the changes in the way that the EPA will use science in its work. A new document from inside the Trump camp says that the administration will seek to "reform" how the agency uses information.

"Unless major reforms of the agency's use of science and economics are achieved, EPA will be able to return to its bad old ways as soon as an establishment administration takes office," the document reads, according to the website Axios. The document was written by Myron Ebell, the site claimed, who has aggressively opposed climate change activists and has been central in the Trump transition team.

It isn't clear what the reforms might include, or what the reference to "bad old ways" means. But it is likely to be a reference to the climate change work that the agency might do, and the scientific work that it undertakes in doing that.

The EPA publishes detailed information and data on how the climate is changing, for instance. It also publishes work on factors that can contribute to climate change, such as using scientific methods to study greenhouse gas emissions, for instance.

It uses that data to work on economic and scientific approaches to stemming the effects of climate change and to preventing further damage from global warming.

The Trump team has already signalled that it will move away from any climate-focused work. It has done the same with NASA – suggesting that it will scrap the agency's work measuring climate change and instead force it to work on deep space travel.

The same document calls for huge budget cuts, potentially worth nearly a billion dollars, the website claimed. That includes $513 million that could be raised from cuts to "states and tribal assistance grants" and a further $193 million that could be saved by cutting "climate programmes".

Some of those climate programmes may relate to Mr Trump's intention to completely destroy the Climate Protection Plan. That landmark deal was announced by Barack Obama in 2013 and was intended as a way for the US to address climate change.


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Concerned Citizen January 30, 2017 at 12:42 am

This was posted recently on the Alternative NOAA Twitter account — an “unofficial” Twitter account set up by NOAA in defiance of Trump’s gag orders on federal agencies. (Other “rogue” accounts have been set up by the National Park Service, EPA and the U.S. Forest Service.) (NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

“As hard as this is for some people to hear, we have to put planet before country. We don’t get to file bankruptcy when we destroy Earth.”


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